From the time I was 6 we lived on acreage. The first place was only 10 acres but we had an enormous hay shed and it was the best fun to make hay cubbies with the bales. We had an old horse named Jim, which we got with the place. He was an old turd! He was an ex pacer and so he would only trot. Very hard to ride. He was big and I was little. I would ride him down the stock route ( about a mile) to pony club on a Sunday. We’d do the barrels and cavalettis ( little jumps for kids) . He would put up with this for about an hour or so and then he decided…. screw this I’m going home and he would, with me on his back with nothing to say about it. It must have been funny to watch this old 15 hand flea bitten grey taking this slip of a 7 or 8 yo kid out the gate, across the road and up the stock route home. The first time it happened my mum was at the pony club, having followed me down in the car to make sure I was safe. I reckon she followed me home pretty fast too.
Old Jim used to love bread, the only way you could catch him in the paddock was to corner him and give him a piece of bread. He was very cunning . He would stand on your foot with his front leg and put all his weight on you, especially if you were wearing thongs.(flipflops) We had him for a couple of year but he had arthritis and eventually he couldn’t get up so we had to put him down.
He had us fooled for a long time though because he refused to do any more than a trot and we thought it was due to the arthritis. Someone needed to agist their horse with us one time and when we went to catch Old Jim, he and the other horse ran away. Now having a running mate made him frisky I guess and we literally had to chase these two horses down with the ute in the paddock. Dad driving, kids in the back. So safe…. NOT. I think we must have run them around for an hour. That old horse galloped full pelt until his sides were foamy….. but we never, ever got him above a trot when we were on his back.
After our house burned down in 1978, when I was 10, we bought the land where my mother still lives today. There was nothing there. Just boundary fences. We built everything, the house, the sheds, all the internal fences, big dams. For a long time both my parent still had to work and run the farm. Dad was running south suffolk sheep (the ones with the black faces). They were good meat sheep. Growing good wool sheep was very time consuming and those sheep weren’t so hardy.
When it was lambing time, Mum and Dad would do rounds of the paddock morning and night to check than no ewes were in trouble or there weren’t any lambs in trouble. Sometimes there were and they would bring home a lamb who was suffering from exposure and have to liven him back up. It was pretty easy to get mama to follow us up the driveway and we’d lock her in the yards and take the lamb inside. The quick fix remedy to warm them up was always the same. Shot a teaspoon of rum down their gullets and stick them in the oven for 10-20 minutes (door open of course), hold the mint sauce. After that they were usually pretty right and we would return them to their mums. One particularly stormy night, I remember mum and dad coming home with about 8-10 lambs, they had to make several trips and the lambs would be lying on hessian bags on the floor waiting their turn for the oven. Some got to lay on the hearth of the fireplace in the loungeroom. They had no idea how lucky they were. The loungeroom was the only place we had to take our shoes off in the house, so to have a stinky newborn lamb laying around was special indeed. Once everyone was warmed up, there were 8-10 bleating, pooping, raucous lambs in our dining room! Then the job was matching each lamb to mother. Sometimes the ewes would reject them because they smelled like humans, other times the ewe died. At one stage we had about 15 potty lambs which we had to bottle feed.
Before we lived there, while the house was still being built, Dad would have still to make his rounds before and after work, and bring the lambs home into town where we lived. The landlord never knew, thank God, because he was anal about no pets, not even cats. As the lambs grew we would just go up at night to give them their bottles. The funniest thing you’ll ever see is half a dozen lambs chasing a ute up a driveway, bleating their heads off waiting for their bottles. Unfortunately we ran over a lamb one time…. she survived but was never quite right after that.
With the breeding of the sheep, also came the eating. Dad would sell the lambs at the sales and select one each month which would have the dubious honour of feeding us. He’d kill it himself and butcher it. Something he’d learned as a young man hanging around his uncle’s farm. He didn’t have a dedicated space for this of course, so the killing and hanging was done over in the big shed and when it was time to butcher the lamb he’d just bring it inside and cut it up on a sheet on the dining room floor. Mum would bag it up as he went and fill the freezer. I guess that’s kinda weird but for us it was normal.
As a kid, growing up on the land was awesome. We had all kinds of strange experiences. The first Christmas we were there, I got a horse named Chocolate and my brother got a motorbike. Chocolate was a great horse. I was 12, he was 10. He lived to the ripe old age of 32. I was pregnant with Miss Gremlin when Dad finally had him put down.
I truly loved living on the farm as a kid. I think both my brother and I learned a lot about life, death and country life. I would love for my kids to experience even just 1/10th of what I did. It’s such a different way of life. I know this will never be but I can try to give them some of those experiences whenever we visit. It gives you such grounding.
This is one of your best writings. You’ve very successfully created a feeling of time and place, filled with your heartfelt observations. Some years ago I read a slim tome by an American Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser. It was entitled “Lights on a Ground of Darkness” and recalled his own youth, the places he experienced; the people he loved. Your visual language rivals some of his…nice work, Molley!
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